Mineral sources and transport pathways for arsenic release in a coastal watershed, USA

Geochemistry: Exploration, Environment, Analysis
By:  and 



Metasedimentary bedrock of coastal Maine contains a diverse suite of As-bearing minerals that act as significant sources of elements found in ground and surface waters in the region. Arsenic sources in the Penobscot Formation include, in order of decreasing As content by weight: löllingite and realgar (c.70%), arsenopyrite, cobaltite, glaucodot, and gersdorffite (in the range of 34–45%), arsenian pyrite (<4%), and pyrrhotite (<0.15%). In the Penobscot Formation, the relative stability of primary As-bearing minerals follows a pattern where the most commonly observed highly altered minerals are pyrrhotite, realgar, niccolite, löllingite > glaucodot, arsenopyrite-cobaltian > arsenopyrite, cobaltite, gersdorffite, fine-grained pyrite, Ni-pyrite > coarse-grained pyrite. Reactions illustrate that oxidation of Fe-As disulphide group and As-sulphide minerals is the primary release process for As. Liberation of As by carbonation of realgar and orpiment in contact with high-pH groundwaters may contribute locally to elevated contents of As in groundwater, especially where As is decoupled from Fe. Released metals are sequestered in secondary minerals by sorption or by incorporation in crystal structures. Secondary minerals acting as intermediate As reservoirs include claudetite (c.75%), orpiment (61%), scorodite (c. 45%), secondary arsenopyrite (c. 46%), goethite (<4490 ppm), natrojarosite (<42 ppm), rosenite, melanterite, ferrihydrite, and Mn-hydroxide coatings. Some soils also contain Fe-Co-Ni-arsenate, Ca-arsenate, and carbonate minerals. Reductive dissolution of Fe-oxide minerals may govern the ultimate release of iron and arsenic – especially As(V) – to groundwater; however, dissolution of claudetite (arsenic trioxide) may directly contribute As(III). Processes thought to explain the release of As from minerals in bedrock include oxidation of arsenian pyrite or arsenopyrite, or carbonation of As-sulphides, and most models based on these generally rely on discrete minerals or on a fairly limited series of minerals. In contrast, in the Penobscot Formation and other metasedimentary rocks of coastal Maine, oxidation of As-bearing Fe-cobalt-nickel-sulphide minerals, dissolution (by reduction) of As-bearing secondary As and Fe hydroxide and sulphate minerals, carbonation and/or oxidation of As-sulphide minerals, and desorption of As from Fe-hydroxide mineral surfaces are all thought to be involved. All of these processes contribute to the occurrence of As in groundwaters in coastal Maine, as a result of variability in composition and in stability of the As source minerals. Arsenic contents of soils and groundwater thus reflect the predominant influence and integration of a spectrum of primary mineral reservoirs (instead of single or unique mineral reservoirs). Cycling of As through metasedimentary bedrock aquifers may therefore depend on consecutive stages of carbonation, oxidation and reductive dissolution of primary and secondary As host minerals.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Mineral sources and transport pathways for arsenic release in a coastal watershed, USA
Series title Geochemistry: Exploration, Environment, Analysis
DOI 10.1144/1467-7873/07-152
Volume 8
Issue 1
Year Published 2008
Language English
Publisher Geological Society
Publisher location London, UK
Contributing office(s) Eastern Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center
Description 17 p.
First page 59
Last page 75
Country United States
State Maine
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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